Telisa Swan, owner and tattoo artist at Swan Family Ink, tattoos an oak tree on customer Jordan Shull’s shin Thursday afternoon at Swan Family Ink in Moscow.

Women Behind Swan Family Ink share their story

How three artists have entered - and now defined - Moscow’s tattoo scene

March 10, 2020

The exterior of Moscow’s Swan Family Ink is painted in a traditional beige. The inside is bursting with life, color and ’90s grunge music.

Swan Family Ink owner Telisa Swan gave her first tattoo at the age of 12 — to herself. She gave her second at 14 — again to herself. In 1993, shortly after finishing her bachelor’s degree in graphic design at WSU, she began her professional tattoo career.

Her mentor, a tattoo artist for a bike club, saw her receiving endless commissions by the end of training.

“We’ve seen some s—,” Swan said. “When we first started it was a lot of bikers; [I] had some run-ins with ‘types.’ Men wouldn’t get tattooed by me sometimes at bike rallies, which was fine by me ’cause I didn’t wanna tattoo ‘em anyway. I went to their girlfriends and gave them great tattoos.”

Swan did not allow those early criticisms to hinder her work. She received prestigious national and international awards for tattooing starting with the Best Celtic Tattoo award at the Marked for Life tattoo convention in 1999 and more recently the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Coeur D’Alene 2019 All Hallows Convention.

Swan has also served on multiple judging panels, and will be a panel guest at Puerto Rico’s 2020 International Tattoo Convention.

Swan worked at several tattoo shops across the U.S. before finally settling in Moscow. Alongside her work tattoo artists Cera “Foo” Swan, Telisa Swan’s daughter and Myra Bird.

“I couldn’t imagine any other life,” Cera Swan said. “I started right out of high school. [Tattooing] is the only life I really know; I grew up in a tattoo shop. I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I was 12. I did my seventh grade career day project on tattooing.”

Cera has been tattooing for 20 years, mentored by her mother. She specializes in black and gray floral design.

Myra Bird was introduced to the Swans through her fiance and quickly impressed Telisa with her artwork. Telisa Swan offered Bird a rare apprenticeship, and she has been tattooing for seven years since. She enjoys neo-traditionalist tattooing — a style characterized by modern versions of traditional American tattoos.

“In high school, I would definitely skip math to go hang out in the back of art class,” Bird said. “I did my first tattoo on myself.”

In stark contrast to Telisa’s initial experience in tattooing, female tattooists are now common in many shops.

“When I started, there weren’t very many women in this business and the men were of the mind to keep them out,” Telisa Swan said. “We kind of just had to stick together … People aren’t weird [now] about being tattooed by a woman.”

As she has practiced her craft over the years, she has seen the very nature of tattoos (by both men and women) change as well. Tattoos have come to be considered fine art — a stark contrast to the stigma that surrounded them in the ‘90s, she said.

“I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist,” she said. “I was worried that somehow being a tattoo artist was going to, like, disqualify me? And now today, I couldn’t have ever imagined that now tattoos are considered fine art. [They’re] in galleries like Norman Rockwell.”

Telisa Swan, Cera “Foo” Swan and Myra Bird are all available for custom tattooing at Swan Family Ink in Moscow, Idaho. Piercing and cosmetic tattooing are also offered. For more information on the artists and their work, visit

About the Writer
ANNIKA ZEIGLER, Evergreen columnist

Annika Zeigler is a freshman English-education major from Spokane, Wash.


4 Responses to “Women Behind Swan Family Ink share their story”

  1. Kendra Knighten on March 10th, 2020 12:11 pm

    This is such a great story. I’ve known Telisa and Cera Foo for over 20 years now. My first two professional tattoos were both done by Telisa back in the late 90’s. I’m proud to call them friends and have always been inspired by them as women and as artists. Great people, for sure. Thanks for the great story on these awesome ladies.

  2. Paula Johnson on March 10th, 2020 9:19 pm

    I went to high school with Cera and Telisa always welcomed me into her home. These ladies are beyond talented and an inspiration to many!!! I look forward to making a stop by the shop next time i am in town!

  3. Lee Eakin AKA Troll on March 11th, 2020 8:18 am

    Talisa Gave me my best Tattoo s Love that whole family I will be proud to take her artwork with me wherever I go at the end of my life

  4. Tim Haight on March 16th, 2020 4:15 pm

    I got my Beatles tattoo in their shop as well. They do great work,

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Women Behind Swan Family Ink share their story